Sunday, June 18, 2006

Art Record : $135 million for Adele Bloch-Bauer by Klimt

Check out this painting ....


Lauder Pays $135 Million, a Record, for a Klimt

A dazzling gold-flecked 1907 portrait by Gustav Klimt has been
purchased for the Neue Galerie in Manhattan by the cosmetics magnate
Ronald S. Lauder for $135 million, the highest sum ever paid for a

The portrait, of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Jewish sugar
industrialist and the hostess of a prominent Vienna salon, is
considered one of the artist's masterpieces. For years, it was the
focus of a restitution battle between the Austrian government and a
niece of Mrs. Bloch-Bauer who argued that it was seized along with
four other Klimt paintings by the Nazis during World War II. In
January all five paintings were awarded to the niece, Maria Altmann,
now 90, who lives in Los Angeles, and other family members.

Although confidentiality agreements surrounding the sale forbid Mr.
Lauder to disclose the price, experts familiar with the negotiations,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said he paid $135 million for the
work. In a telephone interview Mr. Lauder did not deny that he had
paid a record amount for the painting, eclipsing the $104.1 million
paid for Picasso's 1905 "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)" in an
auction at Sotheby's in 2004.

"This is our Mona Lisa," said Mr. Lauder, a founder of the
five-year-old Neue Galerie, a tiny museum at Fifth Avenue and 86th
Street devoted entirely to German and Austrian fine and decorative
arts. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition." He said Christie's had
helped him negotiate the purchase.

For most of the last 60 years the portrait has hung in the Austrian
Gallery in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna near "The Kiss," another
gold-flecked Klimt masterpiece of the Art Nouveau era. With its
sinuous lines and intricate details, the painting, "Adele Bloch-Bauer
I," was commissioned by the subject's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.
Mrs. Bloch-Bauer died of meningitis in 1925 at 43. In her will she
requested that the painting and four others by Klimt that the couple
owned be left to Austria upon her husband's death. But when Germany
annexed Austria in March 1938, Mr. Bloch-Bauer fled, leaving all of
his possessions behind. The Nazi government confiscated his property,
placed three of the paintings in the Austrian Gallery and sold the

Before Mr. Bloch-Bauer died, in November 1945, having spent the war
years in Switzerland, he revoked all previous wills and drafted a new
one. Since he and Adele had no children, he left his entire estate to
three children of his brother Gustav: Robert, Luise and Maria.

Of the three, only Maria Altmann is still living: she and her husband,
Fritz, fled Austria during the war and settled in Los Angeles in 1942.
She has a niece and two nephews; a cousin of her brother's second wife
also survives.

In a telephone interview on Friday Mrs. Altmann said she had met Mr.
Lauder, a former American ambassador to Austria, some years ago and
that she had visited the Neue Galerie when it first opened in November

"Mr. Lauder has a great understanding of Austria and a great love for
Klimt," she said, adding that neither she nor her relatives felt it
was practical for any of them to keep the painting, which depicts her
aunt, whom she remembers from her childhood but who died when she was
just 9.

That Mrs. Altmann and her relatives have possession of the painting is
a tale of perseverance and tenacity. After the war the family tried to
regain their stolen possessions, including the paintings, porcelains,
palaces and the sugar company founded by Mr. Bloch-Bauer. Much of the
artwork was divided up among the top Nazis, including Hitler and
Hermann Göring; Reinhardt Hedrick, a Nazi commander, occupied a summer
palace owned by Mr. Bloch-Bauer outside Prague.

The heirs were able to recover some of the works, but the Austrian
authorities ruled that Mrs. Bloch-Bauer's will had essentially
bequeathed the Klimts to Austria. Without access to the original
documents, the family had no case.

By the mid-1980's journalists had begun investigating the restitution
claim, and in 1998 Hubertus Czernin, a Viennese journalist researching
the case for The Boston Globe, was able to find the documents,
including Mrs. Bloch-Bauer's will, which expressed a wish — but did
not require — that the Klimts go to Austria.

In 2000 Mrs. Altmann and the other heirs sued the Austrian government
in the United States. Austria went to court to seek a dismissal of the
suit, and the case wended its way to the United States Supreme Court,
which in June 2004 ruled that Mrs. Altmann could sue Austria in the
United States.

In January an arbitration tribunal in Austria decided in favor of Mrs.
Altmann and her fellow heirs, awarding them the five paintings. In
addition to "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" they include a second portrait of
Adele, from 1911, and three landscapes: "Beechwood" (1903), "Apple
Tree I" (circa 1911) and "Houses in Utterach on Lake Atter" (1916).
After the settlement, Steven Thomas, the lawyer representing the
Bloch-Baur heirs, said he had been approached by museums and
collectors around the world who were interested in buying one or more
of the paintings.

Mrs. Altmann said he had felt especially receptive to Mr. Lauder
because throughout all the years the family was struggling to reclaim
the art, he consistently kept in touch with her, offering to help in
any way he could. "He was incredibly generous and constantly
supportive," she said.

In April Mrs. Altmann and her heirs lent the paintings to the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art, where they remain on view through June
30. Then the five works will travel to the Neue Galerie, where "Gustav
Klimt: Five Paintings From the Collection of Ferdinand and Adele
Bloch-Bauer" will be on view from July 13 through Sept. 18.

Mrs. Altmann said that when the gold portrait of her aunt finally
hangs in the Neue Galerie, she will feel that it is finally where it
belongs. The painting, which took Klimt three years to create, shows
her aunt regally posed, with a mysterious gaze, sensuous red lips and
her hands twisted near her face to conceal a deformed finger. He used
gold throughout the richly painted background and in the glistening
fabric of Adele's patterned gown. Art historians and chroniclers of
Vienna society in the early 20th century have suggested that the
artist and Ms. Bloch-Bauer were lovers.

"I never saw her smile," Mrs. Altmann recalled in Friday in the
interview. "She was always very serious and wore flowing white dresses
and carried a gold cigarette holder when it was very unusual for women
to smoke. She would have loved to have been a woman of today, to go to
university and to get involved in government."

Mrs. Bloch-Bauer was known for giving frequent parties and surrounding
herself with many of the great artists, politicians and intellectuals
of the day, among them the composer Richard Strauss. "She didn't have
teas for ladies like my mother," Ms. Altmann said. That wasn't down
her alley."

She said although Adele was very close to Mrs. Altmann's mother,
Therese, she also seemed to resent her at times because Therese had a
house full of healthy children and Adele had endured three tragic
births. (One child died three days after it was born, and two others
died within hours.)

She remembers asking her mother about the rumored love affair between
Klimt and her aunt. "My mother got mad and said, 'How dare you ask
such a thing? It was an intellectual friendship,' " she recalled. "But
I think it was very possible there was a romance."

Of Klimt, who died in 1918, when Ms. Altmann was just a toddler, she
remembers hearing that he often wore a floor-length smock with nothing

After Adele died, seven years after Klimt, her husband created a kind
of shrine to her in what had been their bedroom. "The Klimts were
always in the bedroom, but after she died, the bed was removed and
there were always fresh flowers," Mrs. Altmann said.

As for the other four paintings, experts estimate that they are
together worth some $100 million.

The fate of these four has yet to be determined. "I can't decide,"
Mrs. Altmann said. "Maybe after they leave the Neue Galerie, they will
go to Christie's. I very much hope they end up in museums. But for now
I am just happy they have a home at the Neue Galerie. It is very
deserved. I couldn't have wished for a better place."

Sanjeev Narang


email: ask {*at*} eConsultant dot com
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